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Guest column by Becca McGowan

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I don’t think there is a God; but I wish there was one.

There it is. I said it.

I had never actually said this to anyone until my seven-year-old daughter asked me point-blank, “Mom, do you believe in God?” It had been easy to avoid a concrete answer up to that point because virtually all religious conversations in our home were between Dale and the kids. I was content to listen during family discussions and participate only in the easy parts: Everybody believes different things…the bible is filled with stories that teach people…we should learn about other people’s beliefs…we should keep asking questions so we can decide what we think…those were the easy parts. I told myself that I was still thinking about it.

The problem is that deep down, I had already decided. And I had decided that God was not real. God was created from the human desire to explain what we didn’t understand. God was an always-supportive father figure, able to get us through difficult times when human fathers were insufficient. I now believed what I had only toyed with in Mr. Tresize’s high school mythology class: A thousand years from now, people will look back on our times and say, “Look, back then the Christian myth held that there was one God and that his son became man…”

But wait a minute! This can’t be! Did I actually say this out loud to my daughter?! I am a GOOD person. I am a KIND person. I help OTHERS. As I left for school each day as a little girl, my mother always said, “Remember, you are a Christian young lady.” That’s who I AM!

Now, here I was, a mother, encouraging my children to keep asking questions, keep reading, keep talking with others. I want my children to think and learn. Then, I tell them, decide for yourself.

But had I ever asked questions about religion? Had I ever read about religion or talked with others? Had I actually decided for myself? No. I became a church-attending Christian as a way to rebel against my stepfather. I hadn’t thought about it for a day in my life.

Flash back eight years, driving home from church in our minivan, when Dale said to me, “I just can’t go to church anymore.” I was devastated.

I continued to attend church on my own for a couple of years. I also began reading Karen Armstrong’s In the Beginning. And I began to think about why I believed. The more I read and talked and debated, the more I realized that my belief was based on my label as a “Christian young lady.” My belief was based on uniting with my mother against my stepfather.

I now consider myself a secular humanist, someone who believes that there is no supernatural power and that as humans, we have to rely on one another for support, encouragement and love. Looking at religious ideas and asking questions, thinking and talking and then finally coming to the realization that I was a secular humanist—that was not the difficult part. Breaking away from the expectations and dysfunctions of my family of origin has proven to be the real and ongoing challenge.

BECCA McGOWAN is a first grade teacher. She holds a BA in Psychology from UC Berkeley and a graduate teaching certificate from UCLA. She lives with her husband Dale and three children in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.